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I was only nine years old when it started. My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Hummel, didn’t usually allow gum in class-but one day she did, and we called it “Gum Day.” “Gum Day” for me was basically the end of the world. That whole day, I was filled with constant anxiety and couldn’t go five minutes without yelling at a classmate, “Chew with your mouth closed!” Being nine, I thought it was just a small annoyance. Over the years, gum chewing, among many other noises, grew from ‘small annoyances’ to absolute torment. It wasn’t until seventh grade that I learned what was happening to me: Misophonia.
Misophonia and I are old friends. I’m just as familiar with misophonia as I am with the scar on my pinkie, the freckles on my arm, and my reflection in the mirror. Misophonia has been right by my side ever since it first showed itself when I was nine. Misophonia translates to “hatred of sound” (hatred being an understatement). Misophonia is a name for the way someone’s brain perceives certain sounds, and these certain sounds trigger negative responses ranging anywhere from slight discomfort to full-on panic and rage.
My responses tend to be on the more extreme end of the scale. When I hear a ‘trigger noise,’ (chewing food, smacking gum, tapping pens, tapping feet, popping, banging, breathing, voices, typing, rustling, gurgling, swallowing… the list goes on) it is a fight or flight response. It is considerably worse when I’m unable to remove myself from a situation. For example, when I’m sitting in class, and there’s someone tapping a pencil. It sounds like a petty reason to get upset, but my brain and pencils tapping don’t agree with each other. When I’m sitting in class, being forced to listen to a trigger noise, my palms get sweaty. My heart starts racing. My skin crawls. This has added an extra challenge to concentrating in class and keeping my grades up. At home, it’s driven me to stay in my room most of the time to avoid hearing trigger noises made by my family.
As much as the situation might seem mostly negative, I’ve come to realize that it actually is not. I never realized the positive in the situation until I wrote an essay about misophonia in 10th grade. As I wrote, I kept coming up with more reasons why misophonia wasn’t a completely negative experience. For example, I have my headphones on a lot of the time to muffle bad noises. This has led me to discover new music that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. Music has become very important to me and is my most common defense against noises. The hatred of certain noises has also led me to appreciate the beauty of other noises: rain, violins, waves on the beach, thunder, and even silence. The emotions caused by noises have helped me create art, too: poetry, paintings, and sketches. I’ve read so many other people’s stories and even learned about other disorders related to misophonia. Last year, I started going to therapy to talk about my misophonia with my therapist, Kim. Kim has helped me with not only misophonia, but countless other issues in my life. If I didn’t have misophonia, I would have never met Kim. I truly believe that without this disorder, my life would be completely different, and I may be a completely different person. Although it may be something that looks negative on the surface, it has guided me to new music, art, stories, and people. There are tons of positive in the situation, it just took me a while to realize it. Misophonia is not just one small battle; it is a lifelong disorder. It won’t be easy learning to continuously overcome it, but instead of letting the experience define me, I’m looking forward to finding new ways to define the experience myself – as something positive.
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